Northern Ireland stalwart Aaron Hughes earns praise as he closes in on 100-cap mark

Aaron Hughes trains with his Northern Ireland team-mates ahead of Saturday's game with Slovakia
Aaron Hughes trains with his Northern Ireland team-mates ahead of Saturday's game with Slovakia

Aaron Hughes will become just the second Northern Irishman to win 100 caps if he appears against Slovakia in Trnava on Saturday night.

The 36-year-old defender made his debut in 1998 against the same opponents and is part of Michael O’Neill’s 23-man Euro 2016 squad for the country’s first major international tournament in 30 years.

Team-mates past and present, along with Northern Ireland’s only other centurion, offered their views on Hughes’ momentous milestone.

PAT JENNINGS

(Northern Ireland’s most-capped player)

“It’s fantastic for Aaron to be closing in on a century of caps. It’s a great honour to play for your country 100 times. I think I played 118 games and a half! Nowadays, you come on for five minutes and you get a cap, so things have changed, but that doesn’t take away from Aaron. The service he has given Northern Ireland is brilliant and nobody deserves it more.”

DAVID HEALY

(Northern Ireland’s all-time record goalscorer)

“Aaron was my captain when I was playing, he was someone I looked up to and respected. I played with him when we were under-12s, under-13s and to see him still playing, it’s a remarkable achievement. He’ll go down as one of Northern Ireland’s greatest ever defenders and hopefully an appearance at the Euros will top it off nicely. He just gets his job done and is six or seven out of 10 every game.”

IAIN DOWIE

(Won 59 caps between 1990 and 2000)

“He’s a magnificent person. Aaron has a great skill in that he’s a brilliant listener whenever managers or players talk to him. He has the ability to communicate, he doesn’t say a lot but when he does people listen. He’s got great legs, is quick, is surprisingly good in the air. He’s very clever in terms of when to go tight, when to drop off and he’s unbelievably dependable and a fantastic lad around the place. He’s good fun, a good personality and he’s added something to the dressing room and that’s why he has played as long as he has. He’s a credit to himself and his family.”

NEIL LENNON

(Won 40 caps between 1994 and 2002)

“He’s made an amazing contribution. I hope he gets some game time this summer. He hasn’t featured so much recently but Aaron Hughes has been a brilliant servant for Northern Ireland and he fully deserves all the credit he gets.”

CHRIS BAIRD (Has won 77 caps from 2003)

“I’m chuffed to bits for him. He’s now going to get to 100 caps and it’s a fantastic achievement for any person. I’m glad he stayed on, came back into it and now he can look back and think I’ve finally qualified for a major tournament and hopefully I’ll play in it.”

PADDY McNAIR

(Has won eight caps since 2015)

“He would have made his debut when I was two years old...don’t tell him that! I remember on the last trip at Windsor Park, we were just jogging on the pitch in the warm-up and he said, ‘You’ve been here a year and have been playing in a nice new stadium and are going to the European Championships. I’ve been here 15, 16 years and I’m only getting there now’.”